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Wellness Exams 101

dog at the veterinarian

Humans are expected to get annual exams — everything from routine checkups and bloodwork to teeth cleaning and eye exams. So why shouldn’t our pets do the same? Wellness exams can detect and treat preventable diseases, as well as spot signs of more serious illnesses, which is why it’s crucial to take your dog or cat in for regular exams.

The Importance of Exams

Pets are really good at hiding illnesses. They can’t tell you if they have pain in their hip or if their kidneys aren’t working properly. By taking your dog or cat in for regular exams, preventable diseases like ear infections, periodontal disease and obesity can easily be treated.

Regular exams can also uncover early signs of more serious issues, like kidney disease and diabetes. By the time your pet is showing symptoms of these disorders, his illness may be too advanced for effective treatment. That’s why early detection is critical. Your pet’s prognosis will be much better if you treat an illness early rather than addressing a disease in its later stages. And it’s likely you’ll save money in the long run, as early treatment is generally less expensive than treating an advanced disease.

So how often do you need to take your pet in for a wellness exam? Most pets should go once a year. Senior pets (depending on the breed, this could be as early as age 6) should have exams twice a year, while puppies and kittens need monthly checkups.

What to Expect

The exam will start with the veterinarian or veterinary technician asking general questions about your pet (diet, exercise, behavior) and checking his temperature, pulse, respiration and weight.

veterinarian using stethoscope on kitten

Next comes a comprehensive examination from head to tail — everything from eyes and ears to your pet’s lymph nodes and abdomen. The veterinarian will also check your pet’s coat and skin for abnormalities or dermatological issues, feel his body for any bumps or irregularities, and listen to his heart and lungs for things like a heart murmur or abnormal breath sounds.

Vaccinations are also done at this time. Your veterinarian might do additional tests, like a complete blood count, urinalysis, thyroid testing, parasite screening or heartworm test. Older pets may need further screening, such as chest or skeletal system x-rays, to check for any abnormalities or degenerative issues.

Hopefully your veterinarian will find no cause for concern during the exam. But it’s possible she might discover evidence of periodontal disease, diabetes, cataracts, tumors or a variety of other issues. At the end of the appointment, she’ll make recommendations on things like dental care, nutrition, pain management and parasiticides to manage any issues your pet might have.

What to Know Before You Go

veterinarian exam with dog

Your veterinarian will likely ask a variety of questions about your pet’s diet, exercise habits, general health, behavior, bowel movements and urination habits, so be prepared to answer those questions. Make sure you also know the following:

• Does your pet need to fast before the appointment?

• Do you need to bring a stool or urine sample?

• Do you have any concerns about your pet, and/or have you noticed any changes in him like weight loss or gain, excessive scratching, or changes in behavior?

With regular checkups, you can keep your pet happy and healthy for years to come. Contact your veterinarian today to schedule a checkup.